A group of researchers of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Brooklyn, and of the Behavioural Neuroscience Institute (Istituto Superiore della Sanità), Rome, have managed to create a fish-robot that can be mistaken by the zebrafish as one of them.
By controlling the fish robot researchers can induce specific behavior in other (real) zebrafish.
The researchers have rendered the colors of the fish-robot in such a way that it mimics a pregnant zebrafish. It has an intense colored stripe and rounded tail fins that are characteristic of a pregnant female and that seems to attract both male and female zebrafish.
The researchers are radio controlling the robot and they noticed that they can induce desired social behavior in the other zebrafish and in the school.
Interestingly, the fish robot, at least to my eye, is not that similar to the real fish but apparently the real fish looks just at a few details to decide if it is a bird of a feather or not…
This is common to many species, including ourselves. Experiments have shown that we focus on certain tell signs and we base our recognition of them.
Of course, a human robot (anthropomorphic robot) is not going to fool us, so far. Technology and the Turing test are still a big barrier but we have already see some robots in South Korean post office serving as clerks and providing information to people in line. According to first studies it seems that Koreans like to interact with robots. There are also a few experiments in using robots to assist elderly patients or hospitalized people. Quite a gap from a human assistant but most foresights are predicting robots to interact in a personal way with people in the next decade. In Italy we had a famous movie, Io e Caterina, where the main character was a she-robot and a person who fell in love with it (her?).
40 years have passed and we are not there yet. Still, in 20 more years we might really found ourselves interacting so smoothly with robots that we may no longer notice it.